Scientists are working on a new technology to analyze large numbers of novel marine microbes.
This technology could lead to more efficient and greener ways to manufacture new drugs for conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, flu and other viruses.
The technology is being developed by researchers at Heriot-Watt University and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) in collaboration with Edinburgh based company Ingenza Ltd, who are searching for new enzymes for use as manufacturing tools in the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries.
The research project uses biochemical techniques to identify potentially useful enzymes in microbes that are found in the sea.
The value in this approach is to take specific knowledge and expertise in biochemistry and molecular biology, coupled with novel and diverse marine microbes, right through to high-yielding, scalable and economic manufacturing processes.
These processes use enzyme catalysts from the marine microbes, which lead to greener and cleaner manufacturing methods.
According to Dr Robert Speight, from Ingenza Ltd, "We are using biology in our chemical processes to come up with improved manufacturing routes. We are taking advantage of the natural diversity of marine organisms that has arisen through evolution in different environments and coupling that with high-tech screening systems."
We are looking to find naturally occurring microbes that already have a built-in capacity to do the chemical reactions we want to perform in industry," he said.
"There is every possibility of developing more efficient and sustainable manufacturing solutions, for pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals in particular, as a result of this search," he added.
The research team's search is for industrially relevant enzymes that will reduce waste and increase productivity in the manufacture of drugs and agrochemicals.
The enzymes they seek have the ability to convert compounds that would have previously been waste products in the manufacturing process, into the desired product, therefore increasing the efficiency of the process.
"Our approach is to look for microbes which can promote the chemical reactions that we want to use in manufacturing. We then treat the microbes under conditions where they produce the key enzymes in higher yield, which we finally purify," said Professor Mark Keane, from Heriot-Watt University.
"The enzymes then undergo systematic testing to evaluate their activity, which enables us to pinpoint candidates that exhibit the best performance," he said.
"We are now identifying microbes with a type of enzyme called an amine oxidase. This could be key to cheaper, more efficient and sustainable process in the synthesis of valuable chemicals by both the pharmaceutical and agrochemical industries," he added.